Robert Louis Stevenson, lifelong connoisseur of "penny dreadfuls," was haunted by one in particular: A Mystery in Scarlet, by “Malcolm J. Errym” (pseudonym of James Malcolm Rymer, 1814-84). In Stevenson's childhood, his nurse Alison Cunningham read this serial to him from the London Miscellany, in which it appeared as the leading story in 1866. “Memory may play me false,” Stevenson recalls in “Popular Authors,” published twenty years later in Scribner’s Magazine, “but I believe there was a kind of merit about ERRYM,” as A Mystery in Scarlet  “runs in my mind to this day” (126). Its persistence in Stevenson's memory troubled him. As he informs Scribners’s readers, he clearly recalled the tale's villains, the tyrannical King George II and his sycophantic valet Norris. However, he had forgotten the resolution. Consequently, he promises, “if any hunter of autographs […] can lay his hand on a copy even imperfect, and will send it to me care of Mr. Scribner, my gratitude will drop even into poetry” (126). Perhaps someone responded to this plea, for, by April 1889, Stevenson possessed a copy. Rereading it confirmed his debt to Errym. “I liked it hugely,” he wrote to his former neighbor Adelaide Boodle, “far better than I ever expected; and see that Mr. Errym [...] had a genuine influence on me, and wish I had his talent, above all in sketching girls” (Mehew 396).

Despite Stevenson's praise, A Mystery in Scarlet  has never been reprinted, nor has it received any critical attention. This neglect might be due to scholars' assumption that it is irretrievably lost. The Orlando Project  biography of  Rymer claims that “the text does not survive," but it does, in at least two complete copies and one partial copy. In compiling this critical edition, I aim to make A Mystery in Scarlet  widely accessible for the first time since 1866, particularly to researchers and students of the penny press, Victorian working-class literature and political life, Stevenson, and the serial's illustrator, the celebrated "Phiz" (Hablot K.Browne, 1815-1882). To allow readers to experience A Mystery in Scarlet  as a multimodal penny paper serial, just as Stevenson did both as a delighted child and as a critically discerning author, this edition consists of a gallery of weekly installments. Each installment echoes its source by picturing the London Miscellany masthead, initial illustration, and three-chapter text. Light critical annotations and a character family tree complete the paratext, which aims to facilitate an accessible, exciting reading experience, one capable of inspiring further scholarly exploration of the serial and of Rymer's other works.

James Malcolm Rymer, alias  "Errym"

Stevenson never knew the true identity of the author of A Mystery in Scarlet. Familiar with penny dreadfuls attributed to “Captain Merry, USN,” he correctly deduced that “Errym” is an anagram of “Merry,” and speculated that “Merry” was the author’s real name, not knowing that “Merry” and “Errym” are both anagrammatic noms de plume. The most successful member of a London literary-artistic family of Scottish origin that spanned the Romantic and Victorian eras, Rymer was one of the most influential and prolific authors of "penny bloods": illustrated fiction serials, published circa 1830-1860, that targeted working-class family readers and often featured dramatic, lurid plots, historical settings, and themes of rebellious or revolutionary criminality.

Throughout the 1840s, Rymer both composed this type of literature and edited penny periodicals that carried it. His frequent employer in this work was the publisher Edward Lloyd (1815-1890), a sometime adherent of Chartism who after 1848 turned away from that movement to deploy the medium of the newspaper to construct a previously unimaginable working-class "liberal consensus" (McWilliam 209).  One of Rymer’s earliest Lloyd bloods, Ada, the Betrayed (1843), serialized in Lloyd’s Penny Weekly Miscellany,  proved a “runaway bestseller,” causing Lloyd to advertise Rymer serials as the work of “the Author of Ada” for years thereafter (James, Fiction xx). Ada also appealed to Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Tillotson 31). Other well-received, relatively enduring bloods that Rymer wrote for Lloyd include Varney the Vampyre, or, the Feast of Blood (1845-7)an important precursor to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and the original tale of Sweeney Todd, The String of Pearls (1846-7).1 Rymer later expanded it asThe String of Pearls, or, the Sailor’s Gift, a Romance of Particular Interest, later retitled The String of Pearls, or the Barber of Fleet Street, A Domestic Romance (1850)In the succeeding decade, Rymer composed slightly less lurid serials for another prominent penny writer-editor and Chartist, George W. M. Reynolds (1814-79). Reynolds is now best known as the author of the long-running, controversial, and politically radical serial The Mysteries of London. As Rohan McWilliam argues, with this serial, Reynolds inaugurated the "Chartist Gothic," or application of the Gothic literary mode as appropriated from writers such as Eugène Sue to working-class reform agendas (McWilliam 202-3). Reynolds's subsequent hit Mysteries of the Court of London (1848-56), with its focus on Hanoverian court intrigues, corruption, and secrecy, anticipates A Mystery in Scarlet.

James Malcolm Rymer. The String of Pearls, or, the Sailor's Gift. London: Edward Lloyd, 1850. Wikimedia Commons.

For Reynolds and other employers, Rymer wrote his bloods under cover of anonymity and pseudonymity, at least once even using his pseudonym "Errym" socially, at a Reynolds's company banquet (Collins xx). His reticence to claim authorship of his works may have derived from the reputation of the penny blood. Middle-class commentators insisted that Lloyd, Reynolds, and their writers promoted working-class idleness and violence, particularly after the 1840 execution of valet Benjamin François Courvoisier for the murder of his employer, Lord Russell. Unfortunately for the penny fiction industry, Courvoisier was widely reported to have possessed a copy of William Harrison Ainsworth’s highwayman romance Jack Sheppard, which had been serialized in Bentley’s Miscellany in 1839-40. Two Punch cartoons endorse this myth about penny bloods. In "'Parties' for the Gallows" (1845), a Cockney teenager tells a newsagent "I vonts [want] an illustrated newspaper with a norrid ['an horrid'] murder and a likeness [portrait] in it” (Punch 8:187; discussed in Haywood 240). In "Useful Sunday Literature for the Masses, or, Murder Made Familiar" (1849), the working-class "Father of a Family" reads to his wife and children "[t]he wretched Murderer is supposed to have cut the throats of his three eldest Children, and then to have killed the Baby by beating it repeatedly with a Poker," while a "likeness" of Courvoisier hangs on the wall and a Bible languishes on the floor, its page block open in the dirt (both reproduced in Jackson). Had Rymer's family history been publicly known--his brother was a serial forger of banknotes who, in 1839, was transported to Van Diemen's Land for life--it might have confirmed the critics' association of "bloods" with criminality.

“Parties for the Gallows”

"'Parties' for the Gallows." Punch (1845). Wikimedia Commons.

While this assumption is unfounded, penny bloods were not innocuous. Demonstrably, they helped to acclimate Victorian working-class families to recreational reading. In a memoir of 1880, another writer of bloods and dreadfuls, Thomas Frost, recalled the penny serial as an important resource that filled a gap in working-class intellectual life. “No longer ago than the commencement of the second quarter of the present [nineteenth] century readers were very few proportionately to the population,” Frost claims, so “no editor of a periodical dreamed of addressing either them or the working class” (67). Frost recalls that in his childhood, his family read only the Bible, “school books,” Cobbett’s Register, and political pamphlets (6-7). Once an adolescent Frost encountered Rymer’s anonymous bloods Varney the Vampyre and Ada the Betrayed, he aspired to authorship himself.

Rymer's penny bloods in particular articulate radical political critique pitched to a target audience that, like Rymer himself, was metropolitan and working-class. As Louis James explains, Rymer's first bestseller Ada, the Betrayed (1842-3), features "a dominant image of class oppression in [Victorian] popular fiction and drama," the fatal seduction of a working-class woman by an elite man, but also shows working-class heroism in its eponymous heroine, who as the serial progresses grows "self-confident ... and eager to help fellow victims of 'harshness and misfortune'" (James, "'I am Ada!'" 67). In other examples of recent scholarship on Rymer's works, Maisha Wester shows that The String of Pearls “highlights anxieties about the emergence of industrial capitalism” as experienced by working-class people and Ted Geier judges The String of Pearls an “essential expression of […] various nonhuman forms” and their relation to “various London publics” that responds to debate about the future of meat trading at Smithfield Market. According to Geier, Todd’s secret cannibal butcher shop prefigures the modern metropolis as a space of invisible butchery that processes people as commodities.  For Troy Boone, Rymer’s Varney, the Vampire “enables working-class readers to enter debates about violence and class typically identified with Chartist radicalism” (52). Rymer tells his readers they are “[f]ree to envision other narratives for themselves” than the tradition post-1789 narrative of class revolution as mob violence” (Boone 59). One of Rymer's Lloyd-published bloods, Mazeppa, or, the Wild Horse of the Ukraine (1850), even features a working-class London hero, Mr. Lumpus, whose Oriental compatriots demand for their Prime Minister, on account of his wisdom and bravery. In response, Lumpus  explains the disenfranchisement of his class. "Oh, pho!" he says, "me a prime-minister anywhere out of England [...] would never do, and in England, I have not the capital" (Rymer, Mazeppa 492). His interlocutors are confused:

"The what?"
"The capital."
"Do you mean money?"
"No, not altogether money, although that is essential; but in England, you must know, no man can be anything or hope to be anything in the population without capital. That is to say, he must have have birth and its consequent influence, and its consequent opportunities."
"Birth?" said Mazeppa; "I thought that in England was of small amount, and that ability was the grand thing."
"Then, my dear friend, you know nothing at all about it. In England men are almost all born to be what the[y] will be. One man is born a member of Parliament; another a parson; another a lawyer, and so on; and it is about as impossible for any one not born in the classes from which members of parliament, parsons, and lawyers are made, to become either, as it would be for me to walk away with the castle of Ureka in my waistcoat pocket."
"You indeed surprise me. I thought that England was the most liberal country upon the face of the earth."
"Tush! It's all humbug." (492-3)

Considered together, these various political interventions suggest that the penny blood, especially as advanced by Rymer, was progressive in both intention and impact.

It is therefore not surprising that this type of print's progress was curtailed by the law. In 1857, the Obscene Publications Act, also known as Lord Campbell’s Act, authorized the search of any premises suspected of harboring “obscene” literature as well as the seizure and destruction of such literature, from any such premises or the post. This legislation had a chilling effect on publishers of penny bloods. Lloyd abandoned the literature industry, focusing on newspapers and even buying up and destroying his own titles. Rymer survived to write less gory but equally politically engaged ‘penny dreadfuls’ for new publishers, such as John Dicks, for whom he proved, as with Lloyd, a “major” house author (James, ODNB 494). His 1860s dreadfuls include the highwayman serial Edith the Captive (which Stevenson read) and its sequel Edith Heron.

The London Miscellany

In 1866, Rymer began editing a new penny periodical, The London Miscellany,  in which he published A Mystery in Scarlet. He designed The London Miscellany  to appeal to readers of his dreadfuls, his earlier bloods, and of the new genre of the sensation novel, but in editing the periodical, he took pains to avoid suspicion of immorality. He reveals these goals in a fictional dialogue, “The Editor and Paterfamilias,” published in the London Miscellany’s February 10, 1866 first number.2 “You will cater largely in the ‘fiction’ way,” Paterfamilias establishes. “Now, what will be the nature of your Romances? Will they be all milk or of a more ensanguined colour?”

Ed. Something between—say couleur de rose [sic]. 
Pater. Yes: but will they be sensational?
Ed. You mention that word in a tone of alarm. Now, I am happy to say that those romances which rake up the gutter of human depravity are a commercial mistake. Their hideous portraits repel most readers […] but, if you ask me whether our tales will bristle with incident, curl round the reader, and drag him along with them, I answer that we will use any known recipe for effecting that object. You must not be deluded by a cuckoo cry. The most “correct” magazines endeavor to be sensational. (Rymer, The London Miscellany 12)

With this retort, Rymer’s editorial persona reassures Paterfamilias and brazenly questions the morality of upscale periodicals. In the pages of The London Miscellany, the Editor (Rymer) keeps up this rhetorical pose, at one point warning the reader that Lord Byron—a writer frequently quoted and cited in Rymer’s earlier bloods, and the source of his own Mazeppa, “was a tippler [drunk]” whose ‘vile Don Juan’ is “unfit for any woman to read” (Rymer. The London Miscellany 130).

In practice, The London Miscellany’s "rose" proved a decidedly deep red. The first volume of the magazine offers two short tales by “Lewis Monk” (30, 62). This pseudonym invokes Matthew G. Lewis, author of The Monk (1796), which penny bloods frequently emulated (Hoeveler 246). The William Heard Hillyard serial The Fair Savage, A Story of an Indian War-Trail, which runs in the first eleven numbers of The London Miscellany, features as its villain a Gothic attempted rapist.  The London Miscellany no. 15 incorporates the tale "The Barber Fiend" (239), a recycling of the anonymous 1824 story “The Murders in the Rue de la Harpe," the major source of the plot of Rymer's 1846-7 masterpiece The String of Pearls . Another allusion to the penny bloods of the 1840s permeates A Mystery in Scarlet. That serial's protagonist, Captain Weed Markham, shares a name with Richard Markham, the picaresque hero of Reynolds’s bestselling and widely-emulated penny blood The Mysteries of London (1844-5). These allusions demonstrate that in The London Miscellany, the penny blood was not dead. It was merely buried in print of which Paterfamilias would approve.

Neither was Rymer’s political fire extinguished. The London Miscellany continues the radicalism of his earlier works, consistently pointing out upper-class excess and irresponsibility and the need for justice for working men and the poor. In the first number, a Rymer-authored serial, Emmeline, or, the Serpent in the Wreath, introduces an early “owner” of a “lordly mansion”:

Clinging to the gilt balustrades of the staircase, his hair wildly disordered, a brocade dressing-gown, torn and disarranged, as it hung about him, and the wild fire of partial intoxication in his eyes [...] the Sybarite [...] at his nod, could have the remotest corners of the globe ransacked to his appetites and his luxuries. (6)

Reminiscent of a Continental aristocratic villain out of the novels of Anne Radcliffe---or Donatien-Alphonse-François de Sade---this character is British. His “mansion” is located in London's Grosvenor Square. Continuing this theme, an anecdote about Richard Brinsley Sheridan sees the playwright rebuke “a young wealthy heir" for “prid[ing] himself on the accident of his birth” (London Miscellany 8). Reinforcing this theme, the same number of the London Miscellany includes four elaborate pull-out color engravings that preview another Rymer serial, Rich and Poor (nos. 3 and 4), in which stock rich characters economically, sexually, and judicially exploit poor ones, with fatal consequences. These four images are the work of artist Robert Prowse (Adcock), controversial illustrator of Charley Wag, The New Jack Sheppard (1860-1), which builds up to a Tower of London heist (Springhall 62). In no. 5, an anonymous contributor declared that “[h]e who is not angry when injustice is perpetrated against the poor and helpless need not mock Heaven with his prayers; hell is ever waiting for him, and the devil will never be further away than his elbow” (69). By making the editorial decision to print this aphorism, Rymer renders acceptance of the socio-economic status quo a danger to the well-off Briton’s soul.

A Mystery in Scarlet

A longing for reform also breathes life into A Mystery in Scarlet. In this serial, Rymer explores anxieties about the perceived relations between gender, householder status, age, and capacity for responsible political participation. For most of Rymer’s lifetime, activists had pursued the expansion of the franchise beyond the male contingent of the socio-economic elite. In 1832, the “Great” Reform Act had admitted to the franchise men who paid homeowner's rates of £10 per annum. This reform increased by five percent the mass of British men eligible to vote, but the change hardly benefited on the working class. As an 1840 editorial noted, "less than one in thirty of the entire population” (emphasis original) could vote (Berman). Regions with low property values were hit particularly hard by the property test's quantitative benchmark. For instance, in Leeds, low wages and commeasurately low-cost housing largely priced workers out of the electorate (Briggs 239). The unfinished business of expanding the electorate to genuinely represent the people remained subject to intense debate for the next several decades and was a major pillar of Chartism. Parliament rejected the further expansion of the electorate proposed in three successive successive Chartist petitions (1839, 1842, and 1848). In 1865, a new reform campaign heated up. In 1866, some reformers demanded the extension of the vote to women, inaugurating the campaign for truly universal suffrage that would succeed in 1918. However, as Janice Carlisle observes, in 1866-7, “one question stood out from all others ... how many working-class men--should be added to the electorate?" (Carlisle). As Katherine Gleadle shows many reformers responded to this question by proposing to extend suffrage only to "the respectable artisan—typically envisaged as a family man and a moral, self-improving citizen” (32). According to this logic, “[t]he ability of the head of the household to provide for his dependents and exert authority over them indicated his capacity for responsible citizenship,” in contrast with the “sexually free bachelor” and the residuum, or supposedly idle poor (Gleadle 32-3). Implicitly, household suffrage disenfranchises most young men and makes political responsibility a condition into which men could maturem but for many participants in the debate, this was not reform enough. In February 1866, James Clay, MP for Hull, proposed what colloquially became known as the "Young Men's Bill," which aimed to enfranchise all adult men who could meet an educational qualification, but this bill failed. To many reformers, household suffrage appeared "a realistic compromise compared with [universal] manhood suffrage” (Gleadle 33-4).

”Manhood Suffrage and Vote by Ballot.” [Poster] c. 1866. The People’s History Museum, Manchester, Wikimedia Commons. Used with permission of the People's History Museum.

It is therefore significant that “Paterfamilias” is an apt description of three major figures in A Mystery in Scarlet. The title character, protagonist, and villain are all fathers or father-figures, and the novel focuses thematically on the extent to which each rises to or fails at that role. The novel begins in the mid-eighteenth century, with King George II inspecting his image, not in a mirror, but in an uncannily mirror-like portrait, scrutinizing “a brow so wrinkled and corrugated that it more resembled some strange fabric which had been exposed to the action of fire than any thing human” (1). Like Dorian Gray’s portrait half a century later, this Gothic eikon basilike horrifyingly reveals the King’s moral flaws in physiognomic form. Tyrannical, paranoid, avaricious, sexually unfaithful, and consumed with hatred for his suffering queen, Caroline of Ansbach, and ambitious son, Frederick Prince of Wales, George II reassures himself, out loud, that patriotism involves both “service to his king—and—and his country—of course his country” (2). As a father to his own family and the nation, this monarch is a complete failure. While one 1860s opponent of expanded suffrage, Robert Lowe, Viscount Sherbrooke, contended that working-class men gravitated toward wilful ignorance and random violence (Briggs 460), A Mystery in Scarlet suggests that these qualities also distinguish the ancestors of Queen Victoria and her immediate predecessors.

As the plot of A Mystery in Scarlet unfolds, Rymer depicts two disenfranchised men evolving into good father-figures, subjects, and leaders. This process begins when King George orders a loyal Kew Palace guard, Captain Weed Markham, to lead a firing squad in the execution of an unnamed stranger in a scarlet coat, who identifies himself only as “a Mystery in Scarlet” (3). Markham obeys, as always: an orphan, he has “neither kith nor kin,” is “alone in this wide world” and consequently grateful for the livelihood and purpose his commission provides. When the body of the Mystery in Scarlet vanishes and Markham, at the King’s command, endeavors to locate it, he finds that the Mystery is not dead—and is the secret elder half-brother of George II. This origin makes the Mystery Britain’s rightful king.

As the serial continues, Rymer continues his advancement of the working-class paterfamilias as a potential citizen. Markham, suddenly finding himself a servant of two royal masters, is uncertain whom to protect and how to act. He is, however, able to discern that his efficacy as a subject is limited by his degree of power. “What should he do?” he wonders:

Or, rather, what could he do?
What was his duty?
And that again resolved itself into, what was his power? (66)

Without “power,” Rymer insists, the British subject is unable to fulfill his patriotic “duty.” Meanwhile, the Mystery charges Markham to protect his daughter Bertha in an explicitly patriarchal way. “[B]e to her that which I would have been,” the Mystery begs (3). Markham tries, but, of course, he falls in love with her. In becoming her guardian, then her husband, the unquestioning career soldier matures into a critically reflexive citizen. In the end, Markham serves his newfound family and his country by rescuing the Mystery while deterring him from violent revolution, a threat underscored by repeated, often ghoulish references to the Civil War (1642-41) and the Regicide (1659). With this resolution, Rymer questions the notion that the ruling elite unquestionably produces good paterfamiliae. Furthermore, as the Mystery in Scarlet is ultimately revealed as a credible pretender to the British throne, his decree that Markham should protect his daughter and his permission for Markham to marry her makes Markham a citizen by a kind of royal will. This plot point implies that British national destiny requires the enfranchisement of working-class paterfamiliae, including nascent ones like Markham. 


Like practically all leading serials of the penny magazines, A Mystery in Scarlet is lavishly illustrated. It carries seventeen initial illustrations: one per installment with the unexplained exception of the ninth installment. These unsigned plates are the work of the iconic Dickens illustrator "Phiz" (pseudonym of Hablot Knight Browne). How can we tell? Firstly,The London Miscellany credits Phiz as the illustrator of some of the magazine's content. At the end of the first number, a “Notice to Subscribers” announces that “a high class of Illustrations” is assured because “we have made permanent arrangements with PHIZ, and other eminent Artists engaged on Once a Week, Good Words, The Leisure Hour, and other approved serials” (12). In later numbers of The London Miscellany, illustrations of specific fiction titles are credited to Phiz. These titles include the generic ‘urban mysteries’ sketch collection London Revelations, as a note in The London Miscellany, no. 4 declares (44). More concrete evidence appeared in the Victorian journalist Thomas Power O’Connor's periodical T.P.’s Weekly  in 1907. "Malcolm J. Errym ... a transposition of his real surname, Rymer... flourished about half a century ago," O'Connor recalls. "I remember a story of his called "A Mystery in Scarlet," treating of King George II, and the Young Pretender. This was illustrated by "Phiz" (Hablot K. Browne), and appeared in The London Miscellany, about 1867" (O’Connor 732). Admittedly, O’Connor was wrong about the Young Pretender (Charles Edward Stuart), but otherwise correctly identifies Rymer, claiming he "also wrote for Reynolds's Miscellany" (ibid), and, having worked for the London Telegraph in the 1870s, probably knew people who knew Rymer personally. In the twenty-first century, the penny fiction scholar John Adcock has declared in his blog Yesterday's Papers that Phiz is the illustrator of A Mystery in Scarlet.

”Phiz” (Hablot K. Browne). “‘By order of the King, fire!’” A Mystery in Scarlet. In The London Miscellany, vol. 1, no. 1 (10 Feb. 1866): 1. Unbound penny number. Courtesy the Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington.

This attribution makes sense on an aesthetic level, as the illustrations of A Mystery in Scarlet look very much like Phiz's work. They are rendered in the "comedic and theatrical style" for which he was renowned, and which was largely displaced in the 1860s by a new, more serious mode (Allingham "A Tale"). Several features of the plates echo Phiz's earlier works, including his Dickens illustrations. These features include oblong compositions, meticulously detailed eighteenth-century court dress, lines that appear thin for a wood relief print, exaggerated facial expressions, portraits hung in rows above the characters, characters drawn from the back as they wheel dynamically forwards, and crowd scenes in which the crowd appears to have lined up in one or two horizontal rows at the front of the composition. On account of the strong stylistic similarities, Phiz's modern biographer Valerie Browne Lester has "no doubt whatsoever" that the artwork is "very obviously by Phiz" (Lester). 

The medium of the illustrations is wood engraving. In 1850-1880, at least a quarter of all illustrations printed in British books were durable, inexpensively-produced end-grain wood engravings (Allingham, "Technologies.") Wood engravings were particularly prominent in the penny press, and had been since its inception in the 1830s. Rymer seems to have insisted that illustrators of The London Miscellany plan for their drawings to be transferred to wood. In the fourth number, he castigates a correspondent for submitting a drawing for consideration in another medium. “The drawing should have been on wood,” Rymer declares. “If you will send us a block, we shall be able to judge” if it is suitable (64).

Nevertheless, Browne found this medium frustrating.  As Rodney K. Engen has documented in his Dictionary of Victorian Wood Engravers, "Browne was never comfortable drawing on wood, his style being too fine-lined and sketchy to be adequately engraved or printed" (34). In 1867, Browne wrote to his son that he was engaged to supply a "Sporting Paper" with drawings on wood. "I hate the process," Browne declared:

It takes quite four times as long on wood--and I cannot draw and express myself with a nasty little finiking brish, and the result when printed seems to alternate between something all as black as my hat--or as hazy and faint as a worn-out plate. (qtd. in Kitton 19)

Still, work was work, so during the 1860s, Browne executed at least 227 illustrations that were ultimately printed from wood, including The Young Ragamuffin, which was engraved in 1866 by the firm of George and Edward Dalziel, the "visionary engravers" who in the previous year had brought John Tenniel's Alice in Wonderland illustrations to life (Engen 34-5). Rymer should have been delighted to obtain Browne's collaboration on The London Miscellany.  As Phillip Allingham has observed of Browne's illustrations of A Tale of Two Cities (1859), those of A Mystery in Scarlet make "characters initially unknown [...] more and more recognizable as a result of an interaction of text and plate, and of the plates with each other" (Allingham, "A Tale.") Stereotyping (in the printing-related sense of that word) the stock characters in the brain, the figures facilitate their instant recall when, after vanishing into London's shadows for a few chapters, they reappear.

Browne's contribution to A Mystery in Scarlet also helpfully reinforces Rymer’s political agenda. Upper-class villains such as Norris appear comedic figures. In the first illustration, Norris crouches like a lapdog at the heels of the gallant Captain Markham. Court scenes underscore the sumptuous extravagance and frivolous antiquated fashion of early Hanoverian St. James, echoing the class politics of the text. Similarly advancing this rhetoric, Prowse's Rich and Poor prints depict the rich in the same way and the poor with dignity, and grouped into nuclear families, just as does the text of A Mystery in Scarlet.

Copies Consulted and Pictured

Copies of The London Miscellany, volume one (1866), containing the eighteen installments of A Mystery in Scarlet, are scarce but accessible. A bound copy of this volume survives in the collection of the Wells Library at Indiana University, Bloomington. The same university’s Lilly Library possesses additional, unbound copies of the first and eighteenth numbers, containing the first and final installments. The entire first volume and some later numbers of the "new series" (also edited by Rymer) are also in the British Library’s Barry Ono Collection. None of this evidence eliminates the possibility of a lost penny parts edition’s publication, in Stevenson’s possession or otherwise, but until such an edition is located, we must not assume it was ever published. As far as we can now know, the London Miscellany is the serial’s only edition. 

The primary text of the present edition is transcribed from the Wells Library copy of the London Miscellany. Most of the engravings (Nos. 2-17) derive from the Wells Library copy of the London Miscellany. The illustrations of the first and final installments are reproduced from the Lilly Library’s slightly better, near-magically clean unbound copies of those numbers, primarily so that readers of COVE without access to the archives and private collections that hold the rare surviving examples of unbound “penny parts” can see what they looked like, and envision taking them down from a Victorian newsagent’s shelf and holding them in their hands. The Lilly copy of no. 1 is also the source of the images of Prowse's "Rich and Poor" prints.  

Editorial Methodology

The present edition is partly documentary, as it faithfully reproduces the 1866 text, including many of its errors and idiosyncrasies. Like the London Miscellany, COVE presents A Mystery in Scarlet serially, in eighteen installments. These will appear periodically throughout the year 2020, albeit at less frequent intervals than did the serial in 1866. The text is paginated as in the London Miscellany, which accounts for the gaps in the pagination. Also as in 1866, each installment contains an engraving, a caption, and three chapters, but, to facilitate deep and mindful reading, the most disruptive of the London Miscellany’s typographical errors are amended, and the corrected text marked with square brackets []. Annotations of these bracketed phrases reveal the original, erroneous text.  However, other idiosyncrasies of the source are preserved, including the original formatting of the line breaks. In this edition, the text of A Mystery in Scarlet is annotated to clarify textual, historical, cultural, and interpretive context, including via the presentation of images of historical personages and visual culture depicted in the tale with an expectation of reader recognition. The images of the Lilly and Wells copies have not been digitally corrected. This choice enables readers to encounter the serial nearly as they might in a physical archive, with the discoloration and damage visually apparent.

Finally, although each of the eighteen installments is relatively short, totalling approximately 6,000-7,500 words, the text will probably occupy a great deal of space on your screen. This effect is primarily due to Rymer’s frequent use of one-sentence paragraphs, a convention that pervades his bloods and dreadfuls. While the plentiful line breaks build tension, they also consume column inches quickly, allowing Rymer to fill pages quickly and to write multiple serials at once. I suspect that this generic convention of the penny serial contributes to the scarcity of critical editions, as such a waste of paper and ink does not accord well with the economics of traditional academic print publishing. Fortunately, the COVE Collective’s open-access policy ensures that a new generation of readers may now experience A Mystery in Scarlet without needing, as Stevenson did, to offer up a valuable autograph that “drop[s] even into poetry.”

So, go on.

Look over Stevenson's shoulder as, holed up in his cabin crossing the Pacific or temporarily at rest in Waikiki, he carefully opens a volume of folio pages, the paper brittle after only twenty years, and peers at the illustrated plate, then the caption, and, then, at last, turns to the text.

A mystery awaits.

I hope you will enjoy it as thoroughly as he did.

1 Throughout the twentieth century, The String of Pearls was attributed to Thomas Peckett Prest (1810-59) and/or James Malcolm Rymer. The attribution to Prest seems to derive from a speculative quip published by the often inaccurate George Augustus Sala in the question-and-answer column of Sala’s Journal in 1892. As Helen R. Smith has diplomatically put it, “Sala’s later[-career] recollections require closer examination” than they have received because “they seem designed entirely to amuse,” with no regard for truth (Smith 2019, 46). Today, Smith's bibliographic work (2002) has caused a broad consensus of critics to accept Rymer as the author of The String of Pearls. As Dick Collins (2010), who unearthed further evidence tying the text to Rymer, declares, “the case” for Rymer’s authorship “seems proven” (Collins xiii). More recently, firm attributions to Rymer can be found in Marie Léger-St-Jean’s magisterial bibliographic database Price One Penny: A Database of Cheap Literature, 1837-1860, in Smith's contribution to Lill and Rohan McWilliam 2019 (especially 39-40), and in other contributions to the same volume by Louis James and Sara Hackenburg. McWilliam (2019) discusses The String of Pearls as an “anonymous” work, claiming that it does not matter which of Lloyd’s staffers wrote it because they ultimately answered to him (198), but no recent scholarship makes a positive claim for Prest as the author. Additional primary evidence supporting the attribution to Rymer includes a précis published in Rymer's The London Miscellany (1866) of the 1824 Tell-Tale story universally accepted as a source for The String of Pearls, “The Murders in the Rue de la Harpe,” (“Curiosities of Crime: The Barber Fiend,” in vol. 1, no. 15, 239). It is on all these grounds and others that I accept the attribution to Rymer.

2 A previous penny magazine, also titled The London Miscellany: of Literature, Science, and Art, was in print in 1857-8 (at minimum) and contains fiction attributed by modern scholars to Rymer. A bound copy of no. 1-32 survives in the collection of the British Library. The 1866 London Miscellany begins with vol. 1, no. 1, and makes no mention of this earlier venture. 

Works Cited

Note: only open-access born-digital electronic sources are hyperlinked.

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“The Barber’s Lesson to his Apprentice.” [illus.]  James Malcolm Rymer, The String of Pearls, or, the Sailor’s Gift; a Romance of Particular Interest, plate  no. 1. Lloyd, 1850, Wikimedia Commons.

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Hackenberg, Sara. “Romanticism Bites: Quixotic Historicism in Rymer and Reynolds.” Edward Lloyd and his World: Popular Fiction, Politics, and the Press in Victorian Britain, edited by Sarah Louise Lill and Rohan McWilliam, Routledge, 2019, pp. 165-182.

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Nesvet, Rebecca. ‘Blood Relations: The Spaniard and Sweeney Todd’, Notes and Queries, vol. 64, no. 1, 2017, pp. 112–16.

—, ed. “Science and Art: A Farce in Two Acts, by Malcolm Rymer.” Scholarly Editing: The Annual of the Association for Documentary Editing, vol. 38, no. 1, 2017. 

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